Neonatal disorders in TanzaniaIn Tanzania, neonatal disorders are the leading cause of death. Each year, 51,000 babies die within the first month. Nearly 66% of neonatal disorders in Tanzania are avoidable with proper access to essential care for both the child and mother. Recognizing this, Tanzania has plans in place to reduce both maternal and child mortality rates in the country.

Causes of Neonatal Deaths

The hospitals and pharmacies in Tanzania lack access to the proper equipment for cleaning, sterilization and treatment. Roughly 37% of pharmacies and 22% of health facilities do not have access to injectable antibiotics. Furthermore, about 60-80% of pharmacies and health facilities do not have resources for sterilization. In addition, 50% of health facilities do not have access to soap, water or hand sanitizer and 20% do not have disinfectant products.

This lack of resources has a significant impact on neonatal disorders in Tanzania. Infections are common among newborns and difficulties are frequent among mothers without proper attention and treatment in a sanitary medical facility. In Tanzania, asphyxia accounts for 22.3% of early neonatal deaths, respiratory distress accounts for 20.8%, preterm birth accounts for 12% and sepsis accounts for 11.6% of neonatal deaths. Furthermore, malaria, meningitis and pneumonia contribute to 7.4% of neonatal deaths. The added risk of maternal complications cause 8.6% of deaths among newborns.

How Poverty Impacts Care

Throughout the country of Tanzania, there are vast disparities in healthcare in different regions. This variance is because of varying economic development throughout the country. Areas that are more developed and advanced, with less poverty, can provide better assistance to patients because the areas have more resources to rely on. At the same time, mothers and children with improved chances of survival are able to economically contribute to decreasing poverty.

Tanzania aims to lower its neonatal mortality rate. Doing this will put the country at a lower risk of overpopulation and will reduce the 27.2% poverty rate, which affects hospitals’ abilities to care for and protect their patients. The health facilities cannot provide the necessary treatment, medical resources and medical staff without the necessary funds. Tanzania recognizes that an increase of neonatal deaths means the country will continue to struggle with poverty. The only way to address this is to focus on improving conditions for mothers and children.

One Plan II

Announced in 2016, the Tanzanian One Plan II places access to reproductive health services and reducing infant and maternal deaths as the priorities for the country. The ultimate objective of this plan is to improve the welfare and success of the country by improving neonatal healthcare. The original One Plan began in 2008 and established many of these same goals to be met by 2015.

The One Plan established the goal to lower the neonatal mortality rate to 19 out of 1,000 births by 2015, but this was not achieved. In 2015, neonatal mortality stood at 22%. However, there was progress in other areas as the number of women giving birth in the presence of a qualified professional increased from 43% in 2004 to 51% in 2010. At the same time, the number of women giving birth in proper health facilities also increased. In 2014, the maternal mortality rate was 574 deaths per 100,000 births.

A Hopeful Future

Since the start of the One Plan II and other similar plans, neonatal disorders in Tanzania have declined. The latest neonatal mortality rate is now 20 deaths per 1,000 live births. Additionally, the maternal death rate has continued to decline to 524 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. As the country makes this progress, it also hopes to see progress economically. Vaccinations, sanitization efforts and health facility progress allows Tanzania to not only improve survival rates but also fight the widespread poverty in the country.

– Delaney Gilmore
Photo: Flickr

Spreading Awareness About Fistulas in ZambiaFistulas in Zambia are still a devastating problem for impoverished, young mothers despite being preventable. An obstetric fistula occurs when a mother endures prolonged (oftentimes up to five days long) labor in which obstruction occurs. This obstruction then cuts off the blood supply and causes tissue death. Tissue death leads to holes between the vagina and bladder or rectum. Without treatment, fistulas can mean a woman will “uncontrollably leak urine, stool or sometimes both” for a lifetime. The Fistula Foundation and other organizations seek to help women suffering from fistulas in Zambia.

The Cost of Fistula Surgery

The fistulas come with a myriad of infections and chronic pain and can even cause nerve damage to the legs. While fistulas in Zambia are completely preventable and treatable, there are significant barriers to care for mothers. The surgical costs range from $100-400, an expense that is often far higher than what the majority of patients can afford.

4 Factors That Increase the Risk of Fistulas

  1. Malnutrition: Persistent malnutrition is linked to the development of a smaller pelvis, which increases the risk of an obstructed delivery, potentially leading to the formation of a fistula.
  2. Child Marriage: Early motherhood means the narrower pelvises of underdeveloped girls make an obstructed delivery more likely.
  3. Lack of Education: When young women are pulled out of school for marriage and childbearing without proper knowledge about their bodies, the delivery process and their reproductive systems, health consequences ensue. A lack of proper reproductive health education leads to a lack of awareness about the preventability and treatability of fistulas.
  4. Poverty: Poverty augments the chance of food insecurity, younger marriage, childbearing and sacrificing a woman’s education for family duties. Even more importantly, poverty makes access to healthcare that much more difficult. Fistulas are also more prevalent in births that take place outside of medical facilities as women undergoing an obstructed delivery are unable to get a C-section or emergency medical assistance.

In wealthier countries that properly address these four issues, fistulas are virtually unheard of, showing that poor health outcomes and poverty are inextricably linked.

Stigmatization of Fistulas in Zambia

While the medical ramifications of fistulas are devastating, these consequences come in conjunction with complete social ostracization and shame. Husbands often view the typically stillborn births that come with fistulas as a failure of the mother. It is very common for husbands to shame and abandon their wives, labeling the woman’s medical issues as personal failures.

Doctors often do not adequately inform women with fistulas that they have a legitimate medical issue. The abandonment from their husbands is soon joined by the same treatment from family and friends. The isolation and stigma increase the risk of depression among women suffering from fistulas. Lack of proper awareness and education means fistulas have become a source of shame. Hence, many women suffer in silence for decades, even until death.

Spreading Awareness Through Radio

In 2017, the Fistula Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing impoverished young women with proper and free medical attention for fistulas, launched a radio program to educate communities about fistulas in Zambia. The program reached extensively into many provinces of Zambia and mobilized many women to seek proper medical care to repair their fistulas at the six Zambian fistula care centers the organization established to perform the reconstruction surgery for free.

In 2019 alone, the Fistula Foundation performed 319 fistula repair surgeries, all free of charge. In total, the Foundation has aided in the provision of 774 surgeries. The Fistula Foundation also partnered with the famous Zambian singer Wezi to air a song about the dangers of fistulas. The spread of this song, through both radio and CDs, has created a surge in Zambian women seeking treatment. As a direct result of Wezi’s song, 56 women have sought treatment.

Grassroots Activism

In conjunction with the awareness campaigns and Wezi’s song, the Fistula Foundation has encouraged grassroots movements like the Safe Motherhood Action Group (SMAG) to work with community volunteers to spread awareness to help prevent fistulas and end stigma. SMAG leads discussions within communities about the dangers of child marriage with regard to the increased rates of fistulas in young mothers, the necessity of keeping girls in school and the importance of delivering children in medical facilities. SMAG has implemented more than 3,000 community outreach programs, reaching more than 90,000 people with crucial information about fistulas and interconnected social issues.

The Fistula Foundation heavily relies on community leaders to spread the word, designating them the “entry points” to communities and change. The organization’s work highlights the importance of creative community engagement and education initiatives in promoting proper care and destigmatization of fistulas in Zambia.

Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

 Aicha ChennaAicha Chenna, nicknamed “the Moroccan Mother Teresa,” is an important figure in Moroccan society. She devoted her life to fighting for women’s rights. She highlights the issue of single mothers in particular, which many consider taboo in Morocco. Within the country, many regard having kids outside of wedlock as an act of ignominy and dishonor to the family and society as a whole. It receives so much stigma that it can also lead to jail in some cases. To combat this, Aicha Chenna devoted her life to aiding single mothers and helping them become independent women.

Aicha Chenna’s Beginning

The activist Aicha Chenna began her journey as a state nurse and a social worker in the 1960s. As an employee at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Aicha Chenna witnessed single mothers having to abandon their babies for adoption, sometimes against their will. Aicha Chenna recounted, “In my office sat a young woman who was nursing her baby. She was about to sign the adoption papers and took the baby away from her breast to do so. The little one screamed and cried. That was the moment when it clicked for me. I had just had a baby myself and had recently returned from maternity leave. That night, I couldn’t sleep. The story kept going around and around in my head.” It was then that Aicha Chenna vowed to help single mothers.

Association Solidarité Feminine

Aicha Chenna established Association Solidarité Feminine (ASF) in 1985 in Casablanca. The goal of the association is to stand in solidarity with single mothers. The organization aims to help unmarried mothers stay united with their children and be able to be part of society. ASF offers single mothers a place to stay, literacy classes and job training. Further, the association has now added therapy counseling, cuisine and pastries training, sewing and accounting classes, fitness services and medicinal training. All of these services include daily childcare options and legal support. In this way, these single mothers gain the ability and support needed to reenter society.

The organization started modestly with two kitchens and some kiosks to aid 12 mothers. Since then, ASF has expanded into three separate locations. The Ain Sebaa center in Casablanca has dedicated itself to mothers in need of mental and emotional support. It provides educational services as well, including literacy classes. After women complete six months at the center, they meet with a social worker and a psychologist to discuss work options and training, including the restaurant or spa industry.

Progress For Moroccan Mothers

The activist Aicha Chenna, the Moroccan Mother Teresa, made strides in Moroccan society. Both Chenna and ASF received recognition and support from the Moroccan royal family. As such, the family laws underwent modification in 2004. The new laws state that extramarital sex is no longer a crime. Additionally, there are now paternity tests and new developments regarding the legal handling of children born outside of marriage. Thanks to the efforts of this daring activist, the chains of the societal taboos broke. Chenna’s work has saved the lives of thousands of single mothers and their children. These empowered mothers and their kids are able to rise out of poverty, decrease the number of social pressures they carry and lead full lives.

Zineb Williams
Photo: Flickr

Canada’s Childcare FacilitiesOn April 19, 2021, the Canadian Government announced a new budget that includes increased support for Canada’s childcare facilities. The proposed financial support would reduce the average cost of childcare, granting the greatest benefit to Canada’s most economically vulnerable families. Though arranged by the federal government, the changes were advocated for by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Child Care Now.

Government Promises

The government’s commitment to increasing childcare affordability is part of a newly proposed budget written to address the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new budget would allot $30 billion to childcare spending over the next five years.

The goal of the sizable expenditure is to nationally reduce the cost of childcare to an average of just $10 per day by 2025. If passed, federal money would be used in conjunction with provincial funding to subsidize Canada’s childcare facilities, thereby lowering the cost to parents. A portion of the $30 billion would also go toward improving the quality and accessibility of Canada’s childcare facilities.

Presently, costs for childcare vary widely across Canada. In Quebec’s cities, the monthly cost of childcare is less than $200 due to an initiative passed in 1997 that standardized childcare costs. Outside of Quebec, the average monthly cost can range anywhere from $451 in Winnipeg to more than $1,500 in Toronto. The high prices are burdensome for all Canadians, but particularly so for the nation’s impoverished communities.

Child Care, Poverty and the Pandemic

Though not the pandemic’s most obvious impact, a lack of affordable childcare has strained Canada’s economy over the past year. Some of the strain stems from Canada’s childcare facilities and schools being closed to prevent the spread of the virus. As a result, many working parents, particularly mothers, have had to take care of children instead of working.

The pressure that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on women and mothers is reflected in Canada’s 2020 labor statistics, which show that women have exited the workforce at higher rates than men. In fact, the number of men in Canada’s workforce has increased by more than 60,000, while the female workforce has shrunk by at least 20,000.

Impact on Mothers

A large proportion of the women impacted by job losses are low-income mothers. A review of labor statistics found that among mothers ages 25 to 54 who had children younger than 12 years old, the mothers making less than $1,200 per week accounted for most jobs lost within that maternal demographic. Mothers in that group who made more than $1,200 per week actually increased representation in the workforce by almost 12%.

The same report also shows that mothers left the workforce at higher rates than other Canadian women in 2020. For instance, among women ages 25 to 54 who make between $500 and $799 per week, there was an almost 34% decrease in employment among mothers compared to a 21% decrease among women without children. This trend holds true for other earning brackets below $1,200.

While not all job loss among Canadian women can be attributed to maternal responsibilities, motherhood has clearly been a contributing factor for many women who have lost jobs during the pandemic. The fact is particularly true for low-income mothers who are least likely to have a job that will allow them to work from home. Without access to affordable childcare, mothers will continue to remain stuck between joblessness and caring for their children. The new Canadian budget and its advocates aim to solve this bind.

Child Care Now

One of the NGOs that gave support to the new budgetary spending on childcare was Child Care Now. Child Care Now is a Canadian nonprofit organization founded in 1982. The organization advocates for increased government spending on public and nonprofit childcare facilities. The nonprofit’s membership is made up of parents, childcare professionals and all parties concerned with the availability of accessible, affordable and safe childcare. Among the most pressing goals is the expansion of public childcare options throughout Canada.

On February 19, 2021, Child Care Now submitted a budgetary consultation to the Federal Ministry of Finance. In this consultation, Child Care Now made a case for increased federal spending on Canadian childcare, both in response to the impacts of COVID-19 and as an investment in the future of Canada’s childcare system.

Among the recommendations made by Child Care Now is the allotment of $2 billion in emergency spending to bolster Canada’s childcare facilities as well as the allocation of an additional $10 billion over the next three years to increase the access and affordability of public and nonprofit childcare options. When the government announced $30 billion in new spending on childcare, the response from Child Care Now was enthusiastic.

The Road Ahead

While the new budget still needs to be passed by the Canadian House of Commons, Canada’s investment in affordable childcare shows that the government is committed to the well-being of Canadian families. Should the budget pass into law, it will undoubtedly benefit the low-income mothers who have suffered the brunt of the pandemics’ economic hardships.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

Inventions Saving Infant LivesEven with the rapidly developing technology around today, giving birth and nursing are still some of the toughest experiences a mother can go through. Those experiences are, unfortunately, even tougher for mothers giving birth in developing countries. With fewer resources and more exposure to disease right out of the womb, developing countries have some of the highest mortality rates. Here is a list of five inventions saving infant lives worldwide.

5 Inventions Saving Infant Lives

  1. Neopenda: Neopenda is one of the inventions saving infant lives. It is a hat made for babies which helps monitor their vitals such as heart rate and breathing capacity. The company was founded in 2015 and was marketed for newborns in Uganda. The design was tested in Uganda since 2017 and was finally funded in 2019. Neopenda has since won multiple awards for its revolutionary concept and application.
  2. Khushi Baby: Khushi Baby is a digital necklace for newborns that can store all of their medical information at an inexpensive cost. Khushi Baby was designed as part of UNICEF’s Wearables for Good contest and won. The necklace, along with the mobile app, allows nurses to keep track of patient data that can get easily lost in their busy and often underfunded healthcare systems. The necklace has been lauded as an ingenious idea that helps to digitalize immunization records for babies. This helps ensure more accurate and faster readings. Khushi Baby is working with NGO Seva Mandir to run vaccination clinics in rural villages in India. The company has expressed interest in expanding to Africa and the Middle East as well.
  3. Solar Suitcase: Another one of the inventions saving infant lives is the Solar Suitcase. It is an invention designed by Dr. Laura Stachel. The suitcase is a miniature kit powered by solar energy from two panels which produces a light strong enough for child delivery for nearly 20 hours. The kit was inspired by a visit Dr. Satchel made to Nigeria in 2009. She witnessed multiple times power outages that could harm babies and mothers during birth. The kit was tested in Nigeria by Dr. Stachel herself and proven to be a huge success. Since then, her charity We Care Solar has been helping to decrease mortality rates in Africa, Central America and Asia.
  4. The Odon Device: The Odon Device is a plastic bag that inflates to help pull a newborn’s head during delivery. The Odon Device was developed by Jorge Odon, a car mechanic from Argentina and made into a prototype in 2013. Funded by the World Health Organization, the Odon Device is meant to save newborns and their mother’s lives by limiting complications during birth. The product was tested in Argentina and South Africa and achieved a success rate of over 70%.
  5. TermoTell: TermoTell is a bracelet designed to recognize malaria early on in newborn babies. Another design created for UNICEF’S Wearables for Good contest, TermoTell reads babies’ temperatures to safely detect malaria and alert the doctor. If a newborn has malaria, the bracelet will glow and send an alert to a doctor’s phone. The invention was targeted towards sub-Saharan Africa where malaria can cause the deaths of nearly a million children. TermoTell is still just a prototype. The invention is still in the process of improving the design for more accurate readings in the future.

These five designs are just a few of the inventions saving infant lives all around the world. Most inventions are aimed at larger developing countries to help decrease mortality rates. Sub-Saharan Africa still has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world with more than 50 deaths per 1,000 births while India has close to 30 deaths per 1,000 births. Inventions such as the five listed above have the potential to save thousands of lives and improve the mortality rate for many less developed countries whose mothers and infants have suffered for far too long.

Hena Pejdah
Photo: Pixabay

Maternal healthcare in Algeria
Algeria, a large country in North Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The country is known for its rich history and culture, as well as its scorching temperatures. Like many nations in Africa, Algeria struggles to combat maternal mortality – a long-standing, persistent issue for many women in the country. However, in the last several years, Algeria has taken numerous steps to expand maternal healthcare and reduce pregnancy and labor complications. Here are four facts about maternal healthcare in Algeria.

4 Facts About Maternal Healthcare in Algeria

  1. According to recent updates on the maternal mortality ratio in Algeria — it has gradually dropped from 179 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Much of the success in lowering the number of deaths is attributed to a multitude of factors such as increased medical training, investments in healthcare and specific government initiatives aimed at reducing maternal deaths. During the years 2009–2017, Algeria trained about 900 professionals from university hospitals such as, Benni Messous, Kouba, Oran and Bab El Oued on multidisciplinary management of pregnancy.
  2. Within the last couple of years, Algeria has managed to make major investments in healthcare. Algeria managed to increase expenditures in healthcare as a share of GDP from 3.6 % in 2003 to 6.4 % in 2017 — growing at an average annual rate of 4.57%. This is an impressive number when compared with Algeria’s neighboring countries. Moreover, these investments have also helped to establish successful disease detection programs and allowed for improved medical facilities.
  3. In 2015, the Ministry of Health in Algeria began to work in collaboration with UNICEF in an attempt to implement a neonatal and maternal mortality reduction plan. This plan was implemented with the intention of reducing as many preventable, maternal deaths as possible, with a target of 50 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2019. Additionally, in 2016 the Ministry of Health put forward an emergency maternal mortality rate (MMR) reduction plan. “The goals set by the plan relate to strengthening family planning, improving the quality of healthcare during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.”
  4. In order to continue the reduction of the maternal mortality rate, the Health Ministry of Algeria held a survey to consolidate the maternal death rate with the technical and financial collaboration of the three U.N. agencies: (UNFPA, UNICEF and the WHO). The objectives of this survey were to reach a consensus on connections between frequent causes of maternal death, update the maternal death rate and cultivate reliable data “for the readjustment of national programs on maternal health and the reduction of preventable maternal deaths for the implementation of Algeria’s ICPD commitments.”

A Leader in Maternal Healthcare

Much work remains in order for Algeria to be able to effectively put an end to preventable, maternal deaths. However, the measures put into practice within the last several years have already proven to be a success. Thanks to these policies, Algeria has become known as a leader in maternal healthcare in North Africa and the country continues to build a strong momentum and infrastructure to fight this problem.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

Kenya's Breast Milk Bank

In April 2019, Kenya’s Ministry of Health launched Kenya’s first breast milk bank at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi. Given Nairobi’s high neonatal death rate of 38 deaths per every 1,000 live-births, the Ministry launched the bank as a pilot to test if it could reduce the neonatal mortality rate. 

Background

Kenya’s breast milk bank serves infants who are premature, malnourished, underweight or orphans that do not have access to their mother’s breast milk. PATH, like several other global health organizations, cites human milk as the greatest tool for child survival. Breast milk contains a dense number of nutrients and antibodies critical to human development. Therefore, PATH estimates that if children had access to universal breast milk, breast milk could save about 823,000 children’s lives under the age of 5.

Human milk banks are an alternative to ensuring that infants have consistent access to breast milk. At the time of the bank launch, Kenya’s Ministry of Health stated that if the bank was successful, the Ministry would open several more banks in the country. Here are 5 facts about Kenya’s breast milk bank.

5 Facts About Kenya’s Breast Milk Bank

  1. The Pumwani Maternity Hospital: The Technical Working Group selected Pumwani Maternity Hospital to host Kenya’s first breast milk bank because the hospital promotes kangaroo mother care– skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding–as part of its neonatal program. The hospital’s neonatal program caters specifically to preterm, underweight and malnourished infants.
  2. Mothers as Primary Milk Donors: Lactating managers from the Pumwani Maternity Hospital select mothers with more milk than their infant requires to donate it to the milk bank. The managers require mothers who agree to donate to undergo health and lifestyle screenings in order to ensure that they are viable candidates. The screenings include health and lifestyle questionnaires and laboratory blood tests. If lab workers identify alcohol, tobacco and drugs, HIV, Hepatitis B or C or Syphilis in a mother’s blood test, they will disqualify her from donating milk.
  3. Storing and Pasteurizing Donor Mother’s Milk: Mothers at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital donate their milk both naturally and with an electric pump. The hospital stores every mother’s milk separately in batches that contain codes for every mother. Once every batch volume reaches capacity, the hospital pasteurizes the batches to kill any bacteria or viruses in the milk.
  4. The Ministry of Health and Kenya’s Newborn Care Guidelines: Given that Kenyan infants now have access to breast milk due to Pumwani Maternity Hospital’s milk bank, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has added donated human milk to Kenya’s newborn care guidelines. These guidelines help to ensure that Kenyan infants receive the growth-development benefits from breast milk in order to increase their chances of survival.
  5. The Milk Bank’s Impact: As of October 2019, after six months since the MOH launched the bank, the Pumwani Maternity Hospital has delivered nutrient-rich breast milk from over 400 donors to 75 infants.

As stated in these 5 facts about Kenya’s breast milk bank, Kenya’s Pumwani Maternity Hospital is impacting the lives of numerous vulnerable infants. The Ministry of Health looks toward the hospital impacting an increasing number of infants and significantly reducing Kenya’s neonatal mortality rate.

– Niyat Ogbazghi
Photo: Flickr

Single Motherhood in South Africa
Poverty in South Africa disproportionately affects women, a phenomenon people know as the feminization of poverty. Despite efforts by the South African government to combat severe female poverty and disadvantage, the feminization of South African poverty remains an important issue today. Single motherhood in South Africa is a huge problem because it puts a severe psychological and financial strain on both mothers and children. As of 2015, more than half of the South African population was living under the official poverty line, and homes headed by black African women are at greatest risk of impoverishment.

Despite government efforts to alleviate race-and-gender-skewed poverty with state-sponsored health care, free housing programs and subsidized basic services like water and electricity, poverty in South Africa remains overwhelmingly black and female. Half of South African children grow up in fatherless households, and the number of single mother households in the country has grown over the past several decades. Women must increasingly raise and support children alone, which increases a family’s risk of living under the poverty line.

Single-Mother Households and Poverty

The link between single-mother households and poverty is undeniable, impacting even the world’s most affluent nations. In Europe, single-mother households generally have more than double the poverty rate of two-parent households. Single-parent households are bound to bring in less money than married couples because they only have one source of income. As a result, children living in single-parent homes are three times as likely to be poor as children living with married parents.

South African women earn an average of 28 percent less than men, partly accounting for the disproportionate poverty of female-led households. Women also have a harder time finding jobs than men; almost 30 percent of working-age women are unemployed, compared to 25.2 percent of men. Women are also more likely to work in the informal, unregulated sector or do unpaid work. Other vulnerabilities, like domestic abuse, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy and HIV prevent South African women from supporting themselves and their families.

There are psychological consequences for children in fatherless households as well as financial strains. Research has found that boys who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to display aggression and other hyper-masculine behaviors, which increases their risk for unhealthy relationships, crime and addiction. Fatherless girls are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors, experience an unwanted pregnancy or find themselves in an abusive relationship. These consequences propagate the cycle of fatherless homes.

Why is Single Motherhood in South Africa Common?

For almost 50 years, South Africa’s white-supremacist government crystalized systematic inequality on the basis of race through the system of Apartheid. Now, only 25 years into liberation, the South African people still feel these legacies deeply. One of the main contributing factors is the urban-rural divide. Apartheid relegated black South Africans were often in rural homelands far from metropolitan centers and, subsequently, jobs. Thousands of black men had to migrate to cities to find work. They lived in male-only hostels or townships, making low wages and sending money back to their families, who could not leave the homelands to join them.

Some argue that the destruction of the black family structure by the Apartheid regime contributed to patterns of male family-abandonment and neglect. This phenomenon may have had a hand in the recent increase in single-mother households.

Additionally, the vast gap in access to good education, well-paying jobs and respect in society created socio-economic inequalities in South Africa. Black South Africans remain poorly educated, and cyclical, persistent poverty traps many of them, leaving them unable to pull themselves out. In addition, 13 percent of all pregnancies in the country are teen pregnancies, which prevent mothers from finishing school and focusing on a career, resulting in continuous poverty.

The South African government recognizes the scope and seriousness of poverty in single-mother households and has adopted the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 to raise living standards, provide public services and reduce severe poverty and inequality. The policy outlines a plan to invest in education, health services, public transport, housing and social security, as well as welfare policies directed specifically at women and children, like a national nutrition program for pregnant women and a plan to increase women’s enrollment in schools, especially in rural areas. Single motherhood in South Africa is a dangerous phenomenon, and in order to alleviate this problem, women need better access to education, resources and job opportunities.

– Nicollet Laframboise
Photo: Flickr

Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone

The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is the leading cause of liver disease. An estimated 248 million people are infected with the virus worldwide. HBV contributes to 600 thousand liver disease-related deaths a year. It is most prevalent in the Western Pacific with 6.2 percent infection rate and African regions with 6.1 percent of the population are infected. Instances of Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone are high, so the government is working to improve access to vaccinations.

Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone suffers an especially high prevalence of Hepatitis B. An estimated 8 percent of the population is actively infected, and 6-11 percent of mothers risk passing the disease onto their children through birth. HBV is most often transmitted via childbirth. It can also be transmitted through exposure to infected blood. In highly endemic areas, this occurs most often before age five. Adults can become infected through exposure to any infected body fluids, including through sexual activity.

Typically, the older an individual is at the time of exposure, the less likely the disease is to become chronic. However, children under a year old are 80 to 90 percent likely to develop chronic HBV if exposed, 30 to 50 percent before age 5 and fewer than 5 percent in adults. There is no cure for the disease, which often manifests without symptoms at initial infection. However, those suffering from it can suppress the virus through life-long treatment.

However, the HBV vaccine is 98 to 100 percent effective and has been shown to significantly decrease a country’s HBV prevalence when systematically administered. Sierra Leone has made a push toward improving its national health through international efforts. Though it is limited in its own resources, the country has facilitated “free testing, treatment and counseling” provided through the help of international donors.

Efforts to Reduce Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone

In 2014, the African Regional Committee of the World Health Organization passed a resolution to reduce HBV prevalence in children under 5 years old by 2020 to less than 2 percent. In 2007, Sierra Leone introduced HBV in the vaccine to newborns at week 6, 10 and 14, but the WHO recommended birth dose was not being given.

Much of the efforts on studying hepatitis B in Sierra Leone have been focused on providing accurate information on its epidemiology. The Center for Disease Control conducted a survey measuring the frequency of mother-child transmission and the effectiveness of the current immunization program. Data recently collected on 3,158 households in three provinces of Sierra Leone. Over the course of six weeks, 551 samples of serum were collected

This information will be used to inform Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation on the success rate of the vaccination campaign. It will show how well the WHO recommended birth-dose works in reducing Hepatitis B. The research also compares Sierra Leone’s mother-to-child infection rate with that of other African countries with similar strains of the virus. The information is expected to be released by the end of 2019.

Areas to Improve

There are still many areas to cover. While the country focuses on expanding the vaccination program, there have been little effort put towards the prevention of adult to adult transmission. Some studies have shown that many healthcare workers lack adequate knowledge of the disease. At least 77 percent of healthcare staff were unable to recognizing clinical symptoms following infection. These areas need to be addressed in order to effectively reduce tranmission of the virus.

Still, the country has made massive strides in improving its HIV and malaria treatments in the past. Now, it must focus treatment on Hepatitis B in Sierra Leone. Education and vaccinations are essential to reducing the spread of the disease.

Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr